DALLAS - Belo Corp. (NYSE: BLC), one of the nation's largest pure-play, publicly-traded television companies, today reported fourth quarter and full year 2009 pro forma earnings per share from continuing operations of $0.21 and $0.36, respectively, compared to $0.28 and $0.79, respectively, for the fourth quarter and full year 2008. The fourth quarter pro forma earnings per share from continuing operations of $0.21 exceeded analysts' consensus estimate of $0.17. Pro forma earnings per share from continuing operations exclude three items: non-cash impairment charges to intangible assets in 2009 and 2008, gains on the repurchase and retirement of Company bonds in 2009 and 2008, and spin-off related charges in 2008. Including these items, GAAP net earnings (loss) per share from continuing operations for the fourth quarter and full year 2009 were $0.21 and ($1.06), respectively, compared to ($4.74) and ($4.45), respectively, for the fourth quarter and full year 2008.
2009 in Review
Commenting on the Company's operating performance, Dunia A. Shive, Belo Corp.'s president and Chief Executive Officer, said, "The Company's spot revenue, excluding political, in the fourth quarter of 2009 was down less than 1 percent when compared with the fourth quarter of 2008, a marked improvement from 2009's third quarter decline of 16 percent. The fourth quarter 2009 total revenue decline of 13.8 percent is almost entirely due to the decline in political revenue. In the fourth quarter of 2008, the Company generated $35.9 million in political revenue versus $8.8 million in the fourth quarter of 2009. For full year 2009, total revenues declined 19.5 percent as the Company managed through one of the weakest advertising environments in recent history, while also cycling against a record $56.2 million of political revenue in 2008.
"The Company's combined station and corporate operating costs decreased 13 percent in 2009 due primarily to expense reductions implemented over the past year. The Company's ability to generate cash remained strong during the challenging economic environment as station EBITDA totaled almost $200 million in 2009, with a station EBITDA margin of 34 percent. The Company reduced its debt by $65 million during the year."
Total revenues decreased 13.8 percent in the fourth quarter of 2009 versus the fourth quarter of 2008. Total spot revenue, including political, was down 16.4 percent in the fourth quarter of 2009, with a slight increase in local spot and a 2.4 percent decrease in national spot. Total revenues decreased 19.5 percent for the full year 2009 versus 2008. Full year 2009 total spot revenue, including political, was down 23.3 percent with 18 percent and 18.5 percent decreases in local and national spot, respectively.
The fourth quarter spot revenue decline was due mainly to the decrease in political spending. Political revenue totaled $8.8 million in the fourth quarter of 2009 versus $35.9 million in the fourth quarter of 2008. Automotive revenue declined 9 percent in the fourth quarter of 2009, which was a significant improvement from the third quarter decline of 36 percent. The spot revenue decline for full year 2009 was due to the weak advertising environment, particularly in the automotive category which was down 39 percent, and the significant political revenue generated in 2008. In 2009, political revenue totaled $13.4 million versus $56.2 million in 2008.
Advertising revenue associated with Belo's Web sites decreased 3.2 percent in the fourth quarter 2009 and 5.2 percent for the full year 2009. Retransmission revenue totaled $42.6 million in 2009, a 29 percent increase from 2008, and represented 7 percent of Belo's total revenue.
Total station expenses decreased 16 percent and 13 percent, respectively, for fourth quarter and full year 2009 due to continued implementation of cost-saving measures. The station EBITDA margin for the fourth quarter of 2009 was 43 percent versus 41 percent in the fourth quarter of 2008. The station EBITDA margin for full year 2009 was 34 percent versus 39 percent in 2008.
Corporate operating costs were $8 million in the fourth quarter of 2009, as compared to $10.6 million in the fourth quarter of 2008, a decrease of 24 percent, due primarily to the continued implementation of cost-saving measures. For full year 2009, corporate operating costs totaled $29.9 million versus $32.2 million in 2008, a decrease of 7 percent.
Belo's depreciation and amortization expense totaled $9.4 million in the fourth quarter of 2009, 12 percent lower than the fourth quarter of 2008. Full year 2009 depreciation and amortization expense totaled $41.7 million, a decrease of 2.9 percent when compared to 2008.
The Company's interest expense totaled $18.4 million in the fourth quarter of 2009, an increase of 3.9 percent compared to the fourth quarter of 2008. Full year 2009 interest expense totaled $63.9 million, a 23 percent decrease compared to full year 2008.
Other income, net, decreased $18.7 million in the fourth quarter of 2009 due primarily to a $16.4 million gain in the fourth quarter of 2008 from the retirement of $43.6 million of bonds. Other income, net, decreased $7.4 million for full year 2009 compared to 2008 due primarily to a second quarter 2009 write-off of certain analog equipment following the digital television transition and a third quarter 2009 loss on the sale of certain non-operating assets.
Income tax expense increased $131.3 million in the fourth quarter of 2009 and $10 million for the full year 2009 due primarily to a non-cash income tax benefit in 2008 associated with the impairment charge for that year.
Total debt at December 31, 2009 was $1.028 billion. The Company's total leverage ratio, as defined in the Company's credit facility, was 5.9 times at December 31, 2009. Belo invested $4.7 million in capital expenditures in the fourth quarter of 2009 and $9.2 million for the year.
On February 8, 2008, Belo completed the spin-off of its newspaper businesses and related assets into a separate publicly-traded company, A. H. Belo Corporation. The results of operations of the Newspaper Group and related corporate expenses are classified as discontinued operations and total ($0.05) per share for full year 2008.
Non-GAAP Financial Measures
A reconciliation of station EBITDA to earnings (loss) from operations, a reconciliation of operating costs and expenses before spin-off related costs and impairment charges to total operating costs and expenses, and a reconciliation of net earnings from continuing operations to pro forma net earnings from continuing operations, are set forth in an exhibit to this release.
The three items excluded from pro forma earnings per share from continuing operations consist of the following:
Looking to 2010, Shive said, "Total spot revenues in January were up more than 9 percent compared to January 2009, with higher percentage growth expected in February due to the Super Bowl on our five CBS stations and the Olympics on our four NBC stations. First quarter spot revenues are currently pacing up in the low double-digits, with the automotive category currently pacing up more than 40 percent. We expect robust political spending in 2010, most of which will come in the second half of the year.
"Our approach to expenses in 2010 will remain cautious and will be tied to the strength and stabilization of the revenue environment. We plan to lift the wage freeze for our employees at some point during the first half of the year. Capital expenditures for 2010 are not expected to exceed $15 million."
A conference call to discuss this release and other matters of interest to shareholders and analysts will follow at 1:00 p.m. CST this afternoon. The conference call will be simultaneously Webcast on Belo Corp.'s Web site (www.belo.com/invest). Following the conclusion of the Webcast, a replay of the conference call will be archived on Belo's Web site. To access the listen-only conference lines, dial 1-800-230-1074. A replay line will be open from 3:00 p.m. CST on February 4 until 11:59 p.m. CST February 18. To access the replay, dial 800-475-6701 or 320-365-3844. The access code for the replay is 143067.
About Belo Corp.
Belo Corp. (BLC), one of the nation's largest pure-play, publicly-traded television companies, owns and operates 20 television stations (nine in the top 25 markets) and their associated Web sites. Belo stations, which include affiliations with ABC, CBS, NBC, FOX, CW and MyNetwork TV, reach more than 14 percent of U.S. television households in 15 highly-attractive markets. Belo stations rank first or second in nearly all of their local markets. Additional information is available at www.belo.com or by contacting Paul Fry, vice president/Investor Relations & Corporate Communications, at 214-977-6835.
Statements in this communication concerning Belo's business outlook or future economic performance, anticipated profitability, revenues, expenses, capital expenditures, investments, future financings, impairments, and other financial and non-financial items that are not historical facts, are "forward-looking statements" as the term is defined under applicable federal securities laws. Forward-looking statements are subject to risks, uncertainties and other factors that could cause actual results to differ materially from those statements.
Such risks, uncertainties and factors include, but are not limited to, uncertainties regarding the costs, consequences (including tax consequences) and other effects of the Company's spin-off distribution of its newspaper businesses and related assets to A. H. Belo Corporation and the associated agreements between the Company and A. H. Belo relating to various matters; changes in capital market conditions and prospects, and other factors such as changes in advertising demand, interest rates and programming and production costs; changes in viewership patterns and demography, and actions by Nielsen; changes in the network-affiliate business model for broadcast television; technological changes, and the development of new systems to distribute television and other audio-visual content; changes in the ability to secure, and in the terms of, carriage of Belo programming on cable, satellite, telecommunications and other program distribution methods; development of Internet commerce; industry cycles; changes in pricing or other actions by competitors and suppliers; Federal Communications Commission and other regulatory, tax and legal changes; adoption of new accounting standards or changes in existing accounting standards by the Financial Accounting Standards Board or other accounting standard-setting bodies or authorities; the effects of Company acquisitions, dispositions and co-owned ventures; general economic conditions; and significant armed conflict, as well as other risks detailed in Belo's other public disclosures and filings with the SEC including Belo's Annual Report on Form 10-K/A.